There are three stand-alone bravura sequences in Scorsese’s The King of Comedy: the freeze frame credits, the shot of De Niro with the cardboard audience backdrop, and the lighting of the house of Sandra Bernhard—all three scenes are detailed below—masterful
The #5 for Scorsese on the TSPDT top 1000 behind the obvious big 3 and Mean Streets
Starts with the ugly tape recording of De Niro’s standup
Very quickly we get to that incredible freeze shot of Sandra’s hands on the windshield. It’s stunning- one of the best uses of the stylistic technique in cinema history. It holds throughout the entire opening credits with Ray Charles singing “I’m going to love you” lyrics as a horrifying satire. Obsession. The mob, flashbulb (Raging Bull, Aviator)—this is Scorsese’s view of the mob
There’s a little Marathon Man (the famous Olivier vs Dustin Hoffman style of acting) light going on with old school Jerry Lewis against new school method De Niro—both are superb here
Use of surrealism—and melding of Pupkin’s realities– not usual for Scorsese. De Niro is manic, talking to himself, yelling at his mother like Will Ferrell in Wedding Crashers for the meatloaf.
De Niro’s Rupert Pupkin is yet another in a long string of dangerous, complex and rich character played by De Niro—mother issues, he was bullied in high school (as we’d find out in the monologue at the end), alcoholism and abuse in the family—dark stuff
Francis Ford Coppola lists this among the all-time great films along with Raging Bull
It’s sort of fascinating to watch the film knowing De Niro’s career doing broader comedies in the late 90’s, 2000’s and beyond— he hung out with Belushi and Robin Williams in the early 80’s (maybe part of the research) but there’s a love for comedy there
So De Niro, Lewis and Sandra Bernhard (batshit crazy—convincing, singing Ray Charles) are excellent—but Diahnne Abbott is a weakness- almost all of her scenes fall flat. It’s a better film with better casting there
The brilliant shot 34 minutes in. De Niro in front of a black and white audience façade as Scorsese slowly tracks the camera back. Great mise-en-scene filmmaking.
The third and final shot of genius is the lighting in Sandra’s place- immaculate mise-en-scene
A meditation on celebrity—like Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd, Lumet’s Network
It’s not wall to wall laughs but it is funny—I love that Lewis isn’t scared at all of the ludicrous De Niro and Bernhard
Its not an easy satire or character to hang with—and Lewis’ character doesn’t give you much to hold onto either. Ebert—“”The King of Comedy” is one of the most arid, painful, wounded movies I’ve ever seen. I walked out of that first screening filled with dislike for the movie. Dislike, but not disinterest. Memories of “The King of Comedy” kept gnawing at me, and when people asked me what I thought about it, I said I wasn’t sure. Then I went to see the movie a second time, and it seemed to work better for me — maybe because I was able to walk in without any expectations. I knew it wasn’t an entertainment, I knew it didn’t allow itself an emotional payoffs, I knew the ending was cynical and unsatisfactory, and so, with those discoveries no longer to be made, I was free to simply watch what was on the screen.What I saw the second time, better than the first”
The King of Comedy has more to say about the parlous state of modern celebrity culture than any other movie I can call to mind… Perfectly pitched between satire and horror, The King of Comedy finds both its director and star working at the peak of their powers – the dramatic punch of the piece being strengthened by understatement, by the fact that neither director nor star are grandstanding… The King of Comedy is quite breathtakingly brilliant.” – Mark Kermode, The Guardian